PreChristian Greek Canon

Some discussion has come up regarding the Jews having both a Hebrew text of Scripture and a Greek text – which was different in content as well as language. Many non-Catholics side with the Jews of the Christian era, who decided their “canon” sometime after Christianity was already on the scene. In a discussion I was having on CDF I was challenged to demonstrate the pre-Christian existence of a Greek canon – I maintain(ed) that the LXX (or Septuagint) existed centuries before Christ and that Jews used both canons prior to the dawn of Christianity. Especially when the LXX pointed more precisely to the Messiah, and Jesus as the Messiah coupled with the fact that Christianity, primarily Greek speaking adopted it; the Jews then rejected the LXX in favor of the Hebrew text or “Palestinian Canon,” as many refer to it today. Below are some articles which support what I have been saying all along.

Pre-Christian Greek Canon

F.F. Bruce writes in his classic The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? As follows:
“Indeed, so much did they make the Septuagint their own that, although it was originally a translation of the Hebrew into Greek for Greek-speaking Jews before the time of Christ, the Jews left the LXX to the Christians…” (pg. 26)
(Qtd. on: )

The Role of the Septuagint in the New Testament

The role of the LXX in the New Testament and the early Church is a crucial help in understanding what Paul might have meant by “all Scripture.” As previously mentioned, this is the version most often quoted in the New Testament. And in some cases the claims of the New Testament theologically depend on the peculiarities of the LXX.

For instance, Hebrews 10:5 quotes Psalm 40:6 as a messianic prophecy:

Therefore, when He comes into the world, He says, “sacrifice and offering Thou hast not desired, but a body Thou hast prepared for Me.”

The author has directly quoted from the LXX Psalter. A quick turn to our modern Bibles will confirm that the Hebrew text reads:

Sacrifice and meal offering Thou hast not desired; My ears Thou hast opened.

If we follow this latter reading, the author of Hebrews has not only misquoted the passage, but has made it an important plank of his argument. Only the rendering of the LXX justifies this as a Messianic passage. Did the author of Hebrews get it wrong? Was it an inspired mistake?

In Acts 7:14 St. Stephen relates the story of the Israelite nation and refers to 75 people who traveled from Canaan to Egypt in the emigration of Jacob’s family. This is not what Genesis 46 states in our Bibles, where it catalogues 70 sojourners. But the LXX lists 75 people, confirming St. Stephen’s account, with the differences accounted for by the grand- and great-grandchildren of Joseph (Gen 46:20-22).

Most importantly, it is only in the LXX that Isaiah’s prophecy of the Virgin Birth makes its bold appearance (Is 7:14). The Hebrew text uses the word “woman” (“marah”) instead of “virgin” (“parthenos”). In their earliest confrontations with Christians, the Jews objected most strongly to this verse being used to support of Jesus’ Messiahship. The Jews claimed that Isaiah was prophesying of King Hezekiah and he knew nothing of a miraculous virgin birth. The Septuagint, they said, had been tampered with. The early Christians responded by claiming that it was not they, but the Jews who had cut passages out of the Hebrew text out of envy. (Justin Martyr, Trypho, 71-73)

(Qtd. on: )

Justin Martyr – Dialogue with Trypho

Chapter 71. The Jews reject the interpretation of the Septuagint, from which, moreover, they have taken away some passages

Justin: But I am far from putting reliance in your teachers, who refuse to admit that the interpretation made by the seventy elders who were with Ptolemy [king] of the Egyptians is a correct one; and they attempt to frame another. And I wish you to observe, that they have altogether taken away many Scriptures from the translations effected by those seventy elders who were with Ptolemy, and by which this very man who was crucified is proved to have been set forth expressly as God, and man, and as being crucified, and as dying; but since I am aware that this is denied by all of your nation, I do not address myself to these points, but I proceed to carry on my discussions by means of those passages which are still admitted by you. For you assent to those which I have brought before your attention, except that you contradict the statement, ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive,’ and say it ought to be read, ‘Behold, the young woman shall conceive.’ And I promised to prove that the prophecy referred, not, as you were taught, to Hezekiah, but to this Christ of mine: and now I shall go to the proof.

(Qtd. on: )

Chapter 72. Passages have been removed by the Jews from Esdras and Jeremiah

Justin: I shall do as you please. From the statements, then, which Esdras made in reference to the law of the passover, they have taken away the following: ‘And Esdras said to the people, This passover is our Saviour and our refuge. And if you have understood, and your heart has taken it in, that we shall humble Him on a standard, and thereafter hope in Him, then this place shall not be forsaken for ever, says the God of hosts. But if you will not believe Him, and will not listen to His declaration, you shall be a laughing-stock to the nations.’ And from the sayings of Jeremiah they have cut out the following: ‘I [was] like a lamb that is brought to the slaughter: they devised a device against me, saying, Come, let us lay on wood on His bread, and let us blot Him out from the land of the living; and His name shall no more be remembered.’ Jeremiah 11:19 And since this passage from the sayings of Jeremiah is still written in some copies [of the Scriptures] in the synagogues of the Jews (for it is only a short time since they were cut out), and since from these words it is demonstrated that the Jews deliberated about the Christ Himself, to crucify and put Him to death, He Himself is both declared to be led as a sheep to the slaughter, as was predicted by Isaiah, and is here represented as a harmless lamb; but being in a difficulty about them, they give themselves over to blasphemy. And again, from the sayings of the same Jeremiah these have been cut out: ‘The Lord God remembered His dead people of Israel who lay in the graves; and He descended to preach to them His own salvation.’


Chapter 73. [The words] From the wood have been cut out of Psalm 96

Justin: And from the ninety-fifth (ninety-sixth) Psalm they have taken away this short saying of the words of David: ‘From the wood.’ For when the passage said, ‘Tell among the nations, the Lord has reigned from the wood,’ they have left, ‘Tell among the nations, the Lord has reigned.’ Now no one of your people has ever been said to have reigned as God and Lord among the nations, with the exception of Him only who was crucified, of whom also the Holy Spirit affirms in the same Psalm that He was raised again, and freed from [the grave], declaring that there is none like Him among the gods of the nations: for they are idols of demons. But I shall repeat the whole Psalm to you, that you may perceive what has been said. It is thus: ‘Sing unto the Lord a new song; sing unto the Lord, all the earth. Sing unto the Lord, and bless His name; show forth His salvation from day to day. Declare His glory among the nations, His wonders among all people. For the Lord is great, and greatly to be praised: He is to be feared above all the gods. For all the gods of the nations are demons but the Lord made the heavens. Confession and beauty are in His presence; holiness and magnificence are in His sanctuary. Bring to the Lord, O you countries of the nations, bring to the Lord glory and honour, bring to the Lord glory in His name. Take sacrifices, and go into His courts; worship the Lord in His holy temple. Let the whole earth be moved before Him: tell among the nations, the Lord has reigned. For He has established the world, which shall not be moved; He shall judge the nations with equity. Let the heavens rejoice, and the earth be glad; let the sea and its fullness shake. Let the fields and all therein be joyful. Let all the trees of the wood be glad before the Lord: for He comes, for He comes to judge the earth. He shall judge the world with righteousness, and the people with His truth.’

Trypho: Whether [or not] the rulers of the people have erased any portion of the Scriptures, as you affirm, God knows; but it seems incredible.

Justin: Assuredly, it does seem incredible. For it is more horrible than the calf which they made, when satisfied with manna on the earth; or than the sacrifice of children to demons; or than the slaying of the prophets. But you appear to me not to have heard the Scriptures which I said they had stolen away. For such as have been quoted are more than enough to prove the points in dispute, besides those which are retained by us, and shall yet be brought forward.


Allegro – The Dead Sea Scrolls

John Allegro in The Dead Sea Scrolls documents that when the LXX and Mt contradict, the LXX most often agrees with the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS). (Allegro 59-83). He presents a long chart comparing readings from 1Sam. demonstrating that the text of books other than the first five existed long befroe the MT existed (about 1000 years before). Allegro also documents that most of the time when there is disagreement between LXX and MT the LXX most often agrees with the DSS and DSS with LXX over the MT. A latter article also demonstrates that this same agreement holds for Jeremiah. The DSS contain the longer reading for Jeremiah demonstrating significant support for the LXX.

He also documents (63) that Origen’s work was that of a compulation of a text placing several existing Greek translations of the OT side by side, he used a pre-existing LXX, this is merely what any good translator does in preparing a new translation. A new one was needed because the Jews abandoned the LXX and commissioned their own (Aquilla’s) because the Church had come to use the LXX as it’s Bible, and they wanted to get away form the Christian’s Messianic reading. Origen did not produce the translation of the LXX prophetic books, it already existed. Moreover, it can be shown to have existed in the first century. Clement of Rome (1 Clement) quotes Isaiah 53 in AD 95, and most of the quotations of the OT in the Gospels come from the LXX.

“That the LXX existed before the time of Christ is borne out not only by the fact of agreement with the DSS but in other works as well. A. Vander Heeren states “It is certain that the law, the prophets and at lest part of the other books…existed in Greek before 135 BC, as appears from the prologue of Ecclesiasticus which does not date latter than that year”
(Qtd. on: )

What about the LXX during the time of Christ and the apostles?

Professor Howard explains:
“Since the (Tetragrammaton) was still written in the copies of the Greek Bible which
made up the Scriptures of the early church, it is reasonable to believe that the
N[ew] T[estament] writers, when quoting from Scripture, preserved the (Tetragrammaton)
within the biblical text. On the analogy of pre-Christian Jewish practice we can
imagine that the NT text incorporated the (Tetragrammaton) into its OT quotations.”

“Thus somewhere around the beginning of the second century the use of surrogates
[substitutes for God’s name] must have crowded out the (Tetragrammaton) in both
Testaments. Before long the divine name was lost to the Gentile church
altogether except insofar as it was reflected in the contracted surrogates or
occasionally remembered by scholars.”

Here are the instances in Deuteronomy where the divine name occurs in the Fouad
266 papyri:
LXXP. Fouad Inv. 266 renders the divine name by the Tetragrammaton written in
square Hebrew characters (YHWH) in the following places: De 18:5, 5, 7, 15, 16;
De 19:8, 14; De 20:4, 13, 18; De 21:1, 8; De 23:5; De 24:4, 9; De 25:15, 16; De
26:2, 7, 8, 14; De 27:2, 3, 7, 10, 15; De 28:1, 1, 7, 8, 9, 13, 61, 62, 64, 65;
De 29:4, 10, 20, 29; De 30:9, 20; De 31:3, 26, 27, 29; De 32:3, 6, 19.
Therefore, in this collection the Tetragrammaton occurs 49 times in identified
places in Deuteronomy. In addition, in this collection the Tetragrammaton occurs
three times in unidentified fragments, namely, in fragments 116, 117 and 123.
This papyrus, found in Egypt, was dated to the first century B.C.E.
(Qtd. on: )

Do the Hebrew Scriptures Say that a Virgin will Give Birth?

It appears from the early Jewish argument here that the question is
not whether the LXX had the term “parthenos” (virgin) but whether it
was an accurate translation. That is, the Jews were not accusing the
Christians of creating a corrupted text but rather the text already in
use by the Jews was inaccurate. The use of parthnos in Matthew 1:23 is
clearly a quote from this pre-Christian era LXX in which parthenos was
(Qtd. on:

Other good articles I would encourage you to read:

Good Question

Pre-Christian Jews Widely Embraced a Messianic Expectation that Varied from Time and Place

A History of Biblical Interpretation: The ancient period


About cathapol

Catholic Apologist.
This entry was posted in Canon, Deuterocanonical, Jewish. Jews. Scripture, LXX, Septuagint. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to PreChristian Greek Canon

  1. Great stuff…I am a former Protestant who became Orthodox and after spending time with these books, feel a little cheated from the riches contained in many of the “Deutero-canonicals”. I was able to teach through the books in our parish’s adult Sunday school class, and used the notes as a basis for a book that is soon to be published. The book is a brief intro to all these extra books we have.

    God Bless

  2. cathmom5 says:

    Wow! Great supporting documentation. I appreciate all the historical sources you provided–One or two I have not read before.However, the deniers are only going to deny your research and say it is biased. The historical legitimacy of your argument is obvious to all thinking adults. I think, after teaching ancient Greek and Roman history, that too many people nowadays see the past as just an extension of our present. They do not realize that factual history was not seen in the same light as we do today. To try to go back into ancient history and have question one wants answered, spelled out as A-B-C by ancient writers is just preposterous. Herodotus, who is considered the "father of history", did not tell his history in a purely factual and chronological way–the way people "expect" history to be written now. It is impossible to find a surviving LXX document from ancient times because of the delicacy of documents over time. But, it is NOT impossible to find evidence of the LXX's existence long before the fragments we have today were copied. My point…historians can only conclude the truths of the past by what has survived from the past. It is logical therefore to conclude, as you and the experts you cite have, that such overwhelming evidence of the LXX's exixtence long before the birth of Christ should lead one to believe its truth.

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